Exalting the senses and creating emotion, ‘Luxury’ approaches perfection with creativity, knowledge and tradition.
Luxury comes from the Latin word luxus which means excess or decadence, pomp and splendor. It evokes a lavish lifestyle leading to unnecessary spending. This is required in order to surround oneself with a sumptuous sophistication or pure taste of ostentation, as opposed to one’s basic needs.
A luxury product is essentially a guarantee of quality: the customer knows that it has been produced with expertise, often it is a work of art and uniquely hand- made. It is for this reason that one is ready to pay the excessive amount on the price tag.
The luxury brand is often a family brand, whose origin is rooted in tradition. Here the creator has mixed, at the right moment; knowledge, passion and ambition to give birth to an elevated product and lifestyle shared with their loved ones and passed down in generations. The Luxe does not necessarily have to be well known. Producing a product in small quantities which is ordered by a limited clientele means that these producers of the Luxe profit from its rarity, and from their claim to excellence.
Creators of the luxe have existed for many centuries. Throughout history, the idea of luxury has stemmed from the traditions and lifestyle of the preceding cultures.
Looking back to the Egyptians, we see a population already showing concern for beauty, one’s well being, and social distinction. The possession of jewelry or perfume illustrates the beginning of man’s need for luxury. Some centuries later, the idea of Luxury would become a propelling source of inspiration for artistic and technical discoveries.
In France, thanks to the political and administrative statements set since the Middle Ages, the powerful centralised government allowed for major economic activity of suppliers to the court, particularly in the decorative arts.
The monarchy would later propel this activity. Louis XIV and his successors become very important leaders. We then witness the creation of large factories able to provide for not only the court but also the aristocracy. These producers were gratified enough to become suppliers to other Court. One of the best known creators was Francois-Thomas Germain, nicknamed « the jeweler of Kings ».
From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, the Luxe was the concern of philosophical, religious, economic and moral debate. Voltaire for example considered luxury to be a real economic engine, while opponents such as Rousseau, believed it to be an obstruction of virtue.Luxury is associated to a wealth which allows one to investment money in something that will generate pure pleasure, rather a profit or satisfy a need. In the eighteenth century, Voltaire explained this idea in a paradoxical formula: « The superfluous is very necessary. « (The Poem Mondain, 1736).
The Revolution did not interrupt the need for luxury. Napoleon restored a stately court, which even if it did seem a little ‘nouveau riche’, was none the less « brilliant ».
But the Restoration is problematic. The Nobles were often left out of pocket and therefore less willing to invest in luxuries
In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution induced two significant transformations. First was the rise of a new elite class, the bourgeoisie. The elite were concerned with possessing (as quickly as possible) the same thing as the aristocracies of the past. Secondly, productors adopted new innovative and effective manufacturing processes which reduced costs and increased production.
Odiot seems to be one of the first who successfully made this transition. At the end of the Empire he created a steam engine whose demand rose rapidly. Rather than give up, he decided to change his production methods, no longer producing to order but to manufacture and sell. Thus we see the transition from handwork logic to industrial scale.
In 1815, this innovative approach was quickly adopted by other manufacturers. This is particularly the case in the production of jewelry, furniture and even in new productions such as that of the piano. Pleyel, fabricators of the piano, are a principal example.
Added to this, the beginning of globalization opens up very important commercial prospects. During the July Monarchy and the Second Empire, the idea of Paris as capital of Luxury begins to become a reality.
During the universal exhibitions, the sovereign clearly showed his support for this movement when providing the establishment of luxury in Paris. For example, Worth, the dressmaker of the Empress and her surroundings.
Then, ‘a two level production’ as it is called in France, existing of both the production of the semi luxe and the luxe, sets up in Paris. The craft tradition persists, and is even more developed. Amongst the jewelers we see the development of future famous brands like Cartier Chaumet. But alongside this luxury handcraft emerges a semi-luxury activity which will help Paris to light up the rest of the world…
At the end of the Second Empire, the food business sees the birth of the prestigious brands Hediard and Fauchon.
The exhibition of 1900 reveals Paris as the global capital of luxury. With the advancement of transport and the new fashion for days out and holidaying, came a boom in the hotel and restaurant business. Consequently names such as Hermes and Louis Vuitton are born.
In 1925, the world’s largest boat named the “Normandie”, sets sail. Normandie was the leading example of French creation, a real museum piece out on the ocean proving to the world that true creation takes place in Paris.
While World War II hits Europe and France in particular, the popularity of brand names soars. Remembering the emblematic figures such as Chanel or Christian Dior, the world of luxury takes root and rapidly grows up. The late ’40s may be described as a frenzy of luxury: 106 houses are labeled ‘Haute Couture’ and the perfume industry booms.
The return of Coco Chanel and the triumph of Yves Saint Laurent enhance this feeling, Paris retains its status as the global capital of fashion and style.
Today, the title for the leaders of Luxury is battled out by other capitals of creativity such as New York or Milan. However, its history and the current strength of its designers gives the City of Light something more, a little ‘extra’ which makes it resonate for a longtime in the collective imagination.
Louis Vuitton : 38 Avenue George V, 75008 Paris. Website : http://www.louisvuitton.com/
Christian Dior Couture : 8 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris. Website : http://www.dior.com/
Cartier : 23 Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris. Website : http://www.cartier.fr
Fauchon : 24-26 Place de la Madeleine, 75008. Website : http://www.fauchon.com/fr/fr
Guerlain : 68 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, 75008 Paris. Website : http://www.guerlain.com
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